Travel & Culture

The Birth of a Skyscraper: Chicago Architecture Tour

Chicago is very well-known for their architecture. I’ve been to Chicago twice now, and one of my favorite parts of both trips were the architecture tours. This time I went on a Free Tours by Foot with my parents, and I enjoyed it so much that I want to recommend it to you guys. (BTW, this post is not sponsored by them.)

Our tour guide, Aram, was actually the one who created this walking tour. He did not study architecture in school – just loves it so much that he went off, did all this research on his own, and created the tour. He was really thorough in his research and told beautiful stories about the architecture, from architect rivalries to architect styles from the ages.

We started our tour at Willis Tower (the black and gold building in the photos above), formerly known as Sears Tower. Aram started the tour with, “If you saw the name of the tower as you passed by, it is spelled W-I-L-L-I-S. It is pronounced SEARS.”

Not all of the buildings were built using the same structure because of many reasons. Willis Tower is the tallest building in Chicago. It gets windier as you go higher, so it was built using the bundled tube structure to provide strength. Think about cylindrical tubes: if you were trying to break one, it’s easy; but it’s harder to break 4 cylindrical tubes at once.

Another thing about Chicago: it’s built on swamp land. Back in the day, there were parts of the city that started to sink because the building material was so heavy. Architects would build these super thick walls because Chicago is pretty freakin’ cold. The problem was that the thicker you build the walls, the heavier they are and the less space you have for anything else (including windows). That’s when architects started playing around with steel frames because it could withstand the weight and height of the building and could make it prettier and more modern.

A story from my first architecture tour a few years ago: when Trump was planning to build his tower in Chicago, he purposefully sought out a revered architect in Chicago in order to get support by Chicagoans. Despite doing so, I still think that building is gaudy as f*ck.

The triangular building in the picture above is the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Aram said that the architect believed that triangle and star shapes were better for the safety of the security guards because they would be able to see/cover more ground. My dad and I are still very confused about this statement. We tried to imagine ourselves as security guards, but could not figure out the safety differences between a triangle, a rectangle, and a star. Can anybody figure this out?

There is a Fine Arts Building on Michigan Ave (pictures above) that is only available to businesses related to fine arts – music, dance, painting, and apparently, yoga is a type of fine arts too. The building still uses old elevator that is run by elevator operators. I love being transported back to the olden days.

The pictures above are of the Rookery in the Financial District. The interior was redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright and is one of his earlier works. Only one pillar remains of the old design. After this, Wright decided this was not his style – it wasn’t free enough. But damn, it is gorgeous.

There are so may details in the architecture around Chicago. I didn’t notice those faces in the picture above until Aram pointed it out. If you really want to understand Chicago as a city, I think attending an architecture tour is a great way to start. I highly recommend this one by Free Tours by Foot with Aram!

xo Juliet

Have you guys ever taken a tour in Chicago? If so, which one and how did you like it? Let me know in the comments below!

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